'We're waiting with bated breath': Anxiety over mental health funding as provincial budget looms

Political analysts predict funding for mental health will stay the same or drop. The provincial government pledged last year to invest $1.9 billion over 10 years in mental health and addictions services.

One in four Windsor parents take off from work to care for a child experiencing anxiety, according to CMHO

Suzanne Kovach was self-employed for 10 years because she says she needed the flexibility to care for her son. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC)

Suzanne Kovach's fifteen year old son, Adam, has seen anxiety overtake his life. He can't go to school and often can't leave the house.

Apart from clinical anxiety, Adam has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Tourette syndrome.

For Kovach it's meant many days at home caring for her son. Time-off that cost her money.  Kovach was self-employed for ten years. While that gave her flexibility to be at home with Adam, she couldn't access employment benefits like compassionate care leave and unemployment insurance.

Adam Kovach (pictured at age 2) was diagnosed with anxiety at age seven. (Courtesy of Suzanne Kovach )

Common struggles

The Kovach family's story is not unusual.

Children's Mental Health Ontario cites that over one in four parents have missed work to care for a child in 2018.

Janet Orchard is the director of the acute psychiatric inpatient program at Maryvale Adolescent and Family Services. The Windsor facility treats children aged 13 to 18 with mental health issues.

Orchard agrees families are hurting. 

"We have many families who have not been able to work at all because they no coverage when they were off, they had to respond to shifts when they were presented, they didn't know their schedule weeks and weeks in advance and they had a child who was struggling not just with anxiety." 

Dr. Janet Orchard says that one in four parents in Windsor have had to miss work to care for a child with anxiety. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC)

Suzanne Kovach says she'd need to take less time off if families could access help faster.

The family has been on waiting lists for up to 12 months for treatments recommended by clinicians for Adam.

The wait can lead to serious consequences. Three years ago, extreme mental stress in grade 7 landed Adam in the hospital.

The family is waiting to get into an outreach program at Maryvale.

Orchard says they've reduced wait times to 6 months, which is considered low.

But both women would like to see shorter wait times and more support from the province.

What's in the budget?

The Ford government is set to release the 2019 budget on April 11.

So far, it hasn't indicated if more money will be spent on mental health.

Political science professor, Lydia Miljan says that's unlikely.

"They had in their platform to reduce the cost of government so it's probably unlikely that there's going to be an increase of money for any service and I would imagine that this is going to be nothing else, if not, hold the line or even funding cuts."

The Kovach family has been waiting to get into Maryvale's outreach program since last fall. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC )

Money matters

Maryvale depends on the Ministry of Children and Youth Services for more than 85 per cent of its funding.

Orchard adds that there is a definite sense of uncertainty around mental health funding for the upcoming budget.

"We all are trying to take some reassurance from messages that this government has given us that they are seeing mental health and particularly the mental health of our children — so that's as much as we know in this stage of the game."

The ripple effect

Earlier this year, Children's Mental Health Ontario also released a report citing a financial gap relating to mental health.

Over $421 million was counted as an economic loss in 2017.

This is the first time that a price tag has been estimated to the cost of parents having to take time off from work to care for children with anxiety related illnesses. 

Orchard also says the report by the CMHO did an effective job at conveying the issues faced by families.

"I think it really opens people's eyes to the suffering attended upon children's mental health across the whole family and also, economics speaks."

Kovach says the uncertainty of how to cope lingers every day for the family.

"You know, without the proper supports and resources. I don't know what his [Adam's] future holds quite honestly. It's a little bit scary for everybody."

Happy Memories

4 years ago
Duration 0:44
Suzanne Kovach remembers a happy vacation with her son, who has anxiety.


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